NASA shares teaser of what to expect from James Webb telescope images

8 Jul 2022

This Fine Guidance Sensor test image was acquired over a period of eight days and used 72 exposures over 32 hours. Image: NASA, CSA, and FGS team

NASA said the teaser has differences to the full-resolution images set to come on 12 July, but is still ‘among the deepest images of the universe ever taken’.

NASA scientists have provided a tantalising glimpse into the awe-inspiring images set to be revealed next week from the James Webb Space Telescope.

The team released an engineering test image that has a “rough-around-the-edges” quality, but is still “among the deepest images of the universe ever taken”.

A successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is the largest and most powerful space observatory ever built. Its mission is to solve mysteries in the solar system, look to distant worlds around other stars and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe.

The first full pictures from JWST are set for release on 12 July, but the engineering test photo shared this week hints at the power of the telescope, showing a distant set of galaxies.

The teaser image, which consists of 72 exposures over 32 hours, was not optimised to be a science observation.

It was captured by Webb’s Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS), which enables accurate science measurements and imaging with precision pointing. Thanks to a week-long stability test in May, scientists were able to keep the imagery from the sensor thanks to available data transfer bandwidth.

NASA said there are a few features of this test image that are quite different compared the full-resolution images that will be released next week.

Programme scientist for the FGS, Neil Rowlands, said he was “thrilled” to clearly see the detailed structure in the galaxies from the image.

“Given what we now know is possible with deep broad-band guider images, perhaps such images, taken in parallel with other observations where feasible, could prove scientifically useful in the future,” Rowlands said.

The goal of the engineering test was to lock onto one star and to test how well JWST could control its roll. NASA said the successful test also produced an image that sparks the imagination of scientists who will be analysing the JWST data.

“The faintest blobs in this image are exactly the types of faint galaxies that Webb will study in its first year of science operations,” said JWST operations scientist Jane Rigby.

The FGS is the one instrument that will be used in every single observation over the course of JWST’s lifetime. It will play a vital role in guiding each JWST observation to its target and maintaining precision to produce breakthrough discoveries about the universe.

Due to the vast amounts of expected data, AI is set to play an important role in analysing the received images. A machine learning model called Morpheus will be used to detect and classify galaxies in deep space and help map the earliest structures in the universe.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic